AFC South: Joe Nedney

Mailbag: Reviewing Titans-Steelers

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
3:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


This is an unbalanced mailbag, I know. All I can do is answer what I find in there, so you can help change it.

Gabe in Spokane, WA writes: What's up Paul. I've been reading your posts for awhile now and I'm a big colts fan. Though I'm not from the midwest that's where my passion lies. There for I have high hopes for a team with relatively the same team as last year. There is talk of the loss of Marv and Tony. But thinking about what we have seen say with the Steelers and their loss of bill Cowher and Bettis and Tomlin taking them to the super bowl title I would say that this looks like the same situation in Indy. Peyton looks sharper than ever and our surgical approach to offense and a sound cover 2 base system with the same players and the hopeful addition of bobby sanders looks like we have the same pieces as we did in 2006 when we won the 'ship. What are your expectations for this season? Just a quick blurb considering you're the guy with the most info! Thanks and keep bringing the noise!

Paul Kuharsky: Appreciate the kind words, Gabe. Please keep reading.

Interesting comparison to the Steelers that may prove accurate.

I think the Colts are better at virtually every position and will be a playoff team. I envision the AFC South coming right down to the end between them and the Titans.


Bill Smith in NASHVILLE, TN writes: Paul, I agree with you on earning your own respect. However, I am looking forward to the day when Peyton is out of the division and all analysts can look at the four small market AFC South teams objectively. He has earned it and Indy will be good as long as he is healthy, but if anyone beats them or finishes ahead of them many pundits feel it was a fluke instead of a possible trend. WAR THE SINGLET!!!!!

Paul Kuharsky: Good to hear from you Bill.

The Colts have won the division every year but two since realignment, and those two years were six years apart. Where is the trend in that?

Thanks for listening to "The Wake Up Zone" in Nashville.


Adam Hardebeck in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Hey Paul, After following quite a lot of postgame talk about last night's game, it seems that the consensus is that Pittsburgh played bad football and still came out on top. Not much credit has been given to Jeff Fisher's squad for taking the Super Bowl Champs to OT on the road after playing 6 games over the past month. People seem to have forgotten that the Titans went 13-3 last year and are returning most of their starters this year. To me, it seemed that Tennessee lost the game more than Pittsburgh won it. Why does it seem that the Titans still have a lot to prove to the national media?

Paul Kuharsky: I disagree completely. Virtually everything I have heard or read credited the Titans for showing great toughness and grit and nearly pulling it off. They inflicted a lot of their trouble on themselves and still had several chances to win it. I actually think it was a loss that gained them respect, despite what I wrote before the game.

No matter any of that though, the standing don't include columns for the categories you are talking about. I disagree with your assessment -- the Steelers impressively drove to a score to tie and a score to win. And the W deservedly belongs to them.


Jeff in Nashvegas writes: PK, it just seems like the Titans have a hard time finishing big games that go down to the wire. Dating back to the Ravens loss in 2000, it feels like they don't have an answer to a big momentum change and they ultimately lose the game.

Paul Kuharsky: The way things played out in Pittsburgh felt a lot like the Baltimore playoff game for sure.

But that's three games you mention, and two of them happen to be the last two they played. I think that might be skewing your thinking.

The New England playoff game in the 2003 season could also probably fit in the category. Four games over nine years does not a trend make, though. Have any more?

Sticking with your time frame, I can think of several strong finishes in big games, too: The Joe Nedney field goal game against the Steelers in the 2002 playoffs, Steve McNair's incredible comeback game at the Giants in 2002, a playoff win at Baltimore with a Gary Anderson field goal at the end in the 2003 season and the remarkable fourth-quarter comeback win against the Giants in Nashville in 2006.

Don't those qualify on the other side of the ledger and offset your claim?
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.

The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.

Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.

"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"

Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.

"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.

"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."

More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.

Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.

Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.

George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville

McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.

"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.

"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."

George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.

"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.

"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"

 
 Lecka/Getty Images
 Tennessee running back Chris Johnson was part of two agressive fourth-down plays by the Titans en route to a 31-14 win over Pittsburgh.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For 30 minutes, Jeff Fisher played territorial football, worrying about field position above all else. It was traditional Titans.

But at the half, a coach known for relying on his defense and his willingness to settle for field goals or punt the ball away, saw the need to shape the game differently. It sparked a stunningly complete 31-14 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that determined AFC playoff seeding supremacy.

Steelers-Titans featured big hits, sacks and tackles for losses, but it opened up with more scoring opportunities than Fisher anticipated. And when it did, he didn't fight it, he allowed for it.

So twice on fourth downs with his team well in the range of kicker Rob Bironas, Fisher elected to keep his offense on the field. A week after a failed fourth-down play cost the Titans a chance to win in Houston, he gave the green light twice more -- with spectacular results.

The two plays:

With 5:12 on the clock in the third quarter, down four points and facing a fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 21-yard line, Kerry Collins faked an inside handoff to fullback Ahmard Hall, then pitched the ball behind him to the left to Chris Johnson. As the Titans anticipated, a cornerback -- Ike Taylor -- was all that was between the rookie running back and the first down, and Johnson easily juked Taylor. He then chomped up the remaining yards too, scoring a touchdown that put the Titans ahead for good, 17-14.

Next series, with the ball back thanks to the first of two Michael Griffin interceptions with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Fisher gave the nod again. On fourth-and-3 at Pittsburgh's 30, Collins fired a pass up the right side perfectly fitted between defenders to Justin Gage for 17 yards. The Titans scored another touchdown to complete the drive.

What did Fisher have to say about the aggressiveness?

"I didn't feel like field goals were going to win this ball game," Fisher said. "Because of the way their defense was playing and the way their offense has the potential to play. We get down to the plus territory, we take a shot at it and we got it, it worked for us.

"A lot of it is just a gut reaction. To me, you evaluate the flow of the game, you assess what you anticipate happening. Keep this in mind, before that, they missed a field goal, they fumbled it on the 5-yard line, they were moving the ball. You like to assume that your defense is going to make the stops, and we did. But, still, in a game like this you have to be aggressive. You have to play it to win it. We played our field position game in the first half. The second half was time to go win in."

Some Titans diehards will read and reread those two paragraphs blinking hard and wondering if they are misattributed. Because that's the sort of talk they've wished to hear on so many tense Sundays when they were left to watch Bironas or Joe Nedney or Gary Anderson or Al Del Greco wind up the hero or goat after close, conservative games.

All the bedrocks of Fisher's stability -- the balanced temperament, the ability to endure a bad stretch, the unwavering faith in the organization's philosophy and scheme, the patience -- come intertwined with a default to conservatism.

The field goal has almost always been his friend.

Now, in three huge moments over the course of three weeks, he hasn't pointed to Bironas. The net against the Steelers was eight additional points -- two touchdowns instead of two field goals. The bounce-back win over the Steelers and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs make it feel like significantly more than that.

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